In 1806, Germany’s lauded poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a letter to his wife asking, ‘Please send me some Würzburger wine, for no other really pleases me’.
Goethe was referring to wine produced in Franken, southern Germany’s famous wine-producing region. Two weeks ago at a wine festival in the region’s capital Würzburg, these wines were on show and the national taste for them seemed just as partial.
VinWorld is a yearly wine festival held in Veitshöcheim, one of Würzburg’s more picturesque suburbs. And while it strived to represent most major wine-producing countries, it was the Franken wine that took center-stage.
Until reunification in 1990, Franken’s 12,940 acres formed the Germany’s easternmost wine region. Wine is produced here on a relatively small scale but with great diversity as to both grape variety and yield. As H. Breider states in the Oxford Companion to Wine, ‘No other region based on the Rhine or its tributaries has such wide variations in the size of its harvest’.
Harold Brugel, one of the new generation of Franken wine-makers, points out, ‘I have ten types of grapes on five hectares, we produce up to 40,000 wines every year and I have complete control over every stage of the process’. On this scale, Harold couldn’t be more hands on; and he wouldn’t have it otherwise. The vineyard blends modern and traditional technologies, and Brugel wines have won a cache of awards, his Silvaner taking home second place at the VinWorld degustation. It’s a firm, fruity white wine, most typical of the region and regional tastes.
During the first half of last century, Silvaner was the main wine grown in Franken. Now Muller-Thurgau grows in nearly half of the region’s vineyards, though there’s also some bachus, kerner reisling and sheurebe. Red and rose represents only a fraction of the region’s production, but interest is growing.
Franken wines tend to be full-bodied, dry, firm and earthy, all characteristics which stem from the cold winters, high rainfall and early frosts of this region. But perhaps their most easily recognizable characteristic is the Bocksbeautel. Since 1726, in fact, these wines have been bottled in a squat green or brown flagon with a round body resembling a goat’s scrotum. The bottle lends recognition value to the region’s wines and Franconia is one of 13 wine-producing regions in the EU to have special protection for their unusual bottle shapes.
Last year, Franken producers fought and won to have their Bocksbeutel limited to their region. As part of the fight to stop the EU removing regional restrictions on the use of this bottle, they built a 35-meter-high Bocksbeutel hot-air balloon to take their protest to Brussels.
This tenacity and passion for Franken wine is centered in the city of Würzburg, itself ringed with vineyards. The town was ruled from the 10th century by wealthy and powerful Prince-Bishops and has a long and distinguished background in wine-making. Though the city has a pedigree history, it’s only thanks to a massive post-WWII restoration that this is visible today.
Würzburg had been designated as a hospital town throughout the Second World War, sustaining little bombing for the duration of the fighting. That is, until it was almost over. Eventually, on the night of March 16, 1945, it received the same treatment as Nuremberg had two months earlier, with the Allies unleashing a 45-minute bombing campaign and destroying over 90% of the place.
Franken wine is considered by many Germans to be their country’s best. They like it so much in fact, that relatively few bottles leave the country. The quantities produced and in-house popularity leave little for export. Perhaps interested parties should make their way to VinWorld 2003 and stock up on the next vintage of Bocksbeautels before they disappear into Franken’s cellars or onto Franken tables.
Sophie Herron, an Australian journalist, previously a features writer for Australian Table magazine, is a member of the Slow Food Internet Office editorial team
Photo: Harvest time in Franken.
For information on VinWorld 2003, visit: www.vinworld.de